Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Walt Mossberg Qutting Facebook

Renowned tech columnist Walt Mossberg has announced he will quit Facebook by the end of the year, after realising his own values now differ to those put in place by the social media giant.
Mossberg, a former writer with the Wall Street Journal and current board member with the News Literacy Project, took to Twitter today to confirm his resignation to the world.
“I am doing this – after being on Facebook for nearly 12 years – because my own values and the policies and actions of Facebook have diverged to the point where I’m no longer comfortable there,” he said.
When he was at the Wall Street Journal I eagerly awaited his weekly column because I believed he was honest and straightforward. So, I am not surprised he came to the came conclusion to dump Facebook.  His entire announcement is here.

The only way these tech companies are going to reform is if they lose customers and money and, even then, it may be too late. Increasingly, Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc., are cancers on our society (scroll down past the Wright Brothers' post for examples).

...And, speaking of Google...

Monday, December 17, 2018

Monday Fun: 115 Years Ago Today...

...Orville and Wilbur and their Wright Flyer took to the air for the first time. Compared to today, flying in 1903 was primitive. For example,
  • There was no complicated (eight boarding groups!) boarding procedure.
  • There was unlimited leg room.
  • And, the Wrights were served the same number of free in-flight meals you get in coach today.
Happy Holiday Travel!!

Apparently, Mocking Global Warming is Now "Sensitive"

I was surprised to see the following tag on my Twitter feed this morning.
So, knowing this was Twitter, I clicked "view." Below, you will see the 'sensitive' material.

Meanwhile, over at Facebook:
Conclusion? Social media isn't very sociable.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

A Perfect Christmas Gift For Someone Who Likes Weather

If I were to tell you that I just read a history on the growth/improve-
ment of storm forecasting techniques in the 20th century, you'd 
probably think it sounded dull. Well, you'd be wrong. This book is 
anything but dull.

"You Will Love This Book"
                     --- Gary England

Warnings is written in the style of a novel and is packed with exciting, uplifting stories. 

Remember: a great hardcover book is highly portable and always charged. It is the perfect gift for those that like weather or even an uplifting, non-fiction story.

Sunday Fun: World's Only Private 787 Dreamliner

Wow. I figure if I spent my entire retirement funds I could probably afford to fly it from Wichita to Kansas City, one way. Enjoy.

Three days ago, Boeing announced a private version of the 777 which is even larger than the 787. Wow.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Do Tornado Warnings Save Lives? Absolutely!

Snow covering tornado debris in Taylorville, Illinois
Photo by: "State Journal-Register"
Even in 2018, there are people who dispute the fact that tornado warnings save lives. Today, I came across a story in the Springfield, Illinois, State Journal-Register pertaining to the warnings that clearly saved lives as a tornado passed near a (called-off due to the warnings) Santa Parade on December 1 in Taylorville, Illinois.

I would like to congratulate the National Weather Service on a job well done as well as the officials and citizens of Taylorville for responding in the proper manner. While there was considerable damage, there was no loss of life. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Attention: Storm Chasers and Anyone Interested in Weather or Storms!

For the first time, Chasercon -- the world's largest meeting of storm chasers and meteorologists who focus on storms -- will be in Wichita this February 8 to 10th. On Sunday, 10th, there will be a seminar on "how to forecast severe storms" which will be useful beyond storm chasers. It will be valuable for emergency managers and anyone wanting to get a jump on tornadoes and extreme thunderstorms.

Here is a partial list of presenters:
  • Dr. Greg Forbes (The Weather Channel)
  • Tim Marshall, world expert on engineering buildings to minimize storm damage as well as an expert storm chaser
  • Roger Edwards, forecaster, National Storm Prediction Center
  • Dr. Jason Persoff, the storm chasing physician (really!) and photographer
  • Jon Davies and his excellent storm forecasting class
I will be delivering the keynote speech Saturday evening (9th) as well as moderating a panel of storm chasers/law enforcement/emergency management on how to make chasing safer as well as more useful to society. Reed Timmer of AccuWeather, formerly of the Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers will be a participant. 

There will also be tours of AccuWeather's Extreme Weather Center in Wichita during the event.
Wichita Eagle photo
The event is being held at the Hyatt Regency Wichita (special room rates, here) which is a wonderful hotel with great food and great service (it is where I held my retirement party).
Bring your family! Wichita has many family attractions in or near the downtown area. For example,
Wichita has a new, modern airport and is served by most major airlines. 
Photo of Eisenhower National Airport by Wichita Business Journal
If you are interested in weather or storms: come, learn, and have a great family experience. 

Protecting Wind Turbines From Lightning

Photo: wxguardwind.com
As readers of this blog know, I am not a fan of wind power as it currently stands. However, that will change if cheap storage becomes available and if we find better ways of protecting wind farms from lightning, ice, (ironically) high winds and other forms of extreme weather. The current generation of wind turbines is surprisingly delicate.
An expensive helicopter used to de-ice a
wind turbine in Canada.
There is good news with regard to wind turbines and lightning mitigation. Wichita State University has developed a way to protect the turbines when they are struck.
Wichita State researcher Billy Martin works on a Kansas wind turbine
Wichita State's system for protecting wind turbines is an outgrowth research done by its National Institute for Aviation Research. After all, a turbine blade is similar to an aircraft wing or an airplane's propeller.

I am hopeful all of this will add up to meaningful progress in the field of wind energy so it is a useful source of reasonably-priced energy without subsidies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Do You Want More Complex Tornado Warnings??

This is the story of a bad idea: probabilistic storm warnings. 

Under the current storm warning system, you are either in a storm warning or not. For example, in the illustration below, the red area is a tornado warning which is nested in a yellow severe thunderstorm warning (large hail or damaging winds).
So, if you are in the tornado warning, your weather radio or tornado siren goes off, or the TV cuts in to let you know. You immediately go to shelter. That's it; that's all a member of the public has to know.

Unfortunately, the meteorological research community has been in love with the idea of probabilistic weather forecasts ("20% chance of rain") for decades and now wants to extend that concept into tornado and other storm warnings. In their minds, probabilities of flash floods and tornadoes (to name two) are "more scientific" than "deterministic" (yes or no) warnings.

What might a probabilistic tornado warning look like? Below is an example:
From a paper on probabilistic storm warnings
presented yesterday to an American Geophysical Union meeting 
Instead of "Take Cover!" (or not) as with the current system, your local television station will show you a graphic similar to the above that will update as often as every one minute.

Instead of, "Go to the basement!," you will learn you have a 70% chance of tornado in the next 15 minutes, a 40% of a tornado in the next 30 minutes and a 10% chance of a tornado in the next 40 minutes. And, the probabilities you are given will change at least every five minutes and, perhaps, as often as every one minute. Really.

This is a terrible idea that will cost lives.

Why is this a bad idea? Let me count the ways:
  • Surveys (here, among many others) show the public does not adequately understand what a "20% chance of rain" officially means (other than 80% is more than 20%). Those probabilities (and it rains far more often than a tornado occurs) have been around for a half-century.
  • If we have not been able to educate the public over a half-century as to the meaning of probability of precipitation, there is virtually no hope of educating them to learn that a 10% chance of a tornado in 30 minutes is actually high.
  • Unquestionably, you should go to the basement or take other shelter if there is a 40% chance (which is very high) of a tornado in the next 20 minutes. I confidently forecast this 40% number will cause mass confusion (deadly when dealing with life-threatening weather) and far fewer will take shelter than do now -- and, that deaths and injuries will almost certainly rise.
  • With the colors and numerical probabilities constantly changing, they will be nearly impossible to convey on television and online in a meaningful way. In the above illustration, part of the area in the tornado's path is green. Green is a color associated with safety, not danger. 
  • Commercial radio and weather radio will not be able to convey this type of warning at all. 
  • What do you do with tornado sirens?
  • These probabilities will be uncalibrated. Because tornadoes are so rare at a given location, there will be no way to know if a 55% chance of a tornado is actually meaningful or if it is just a number. 
I first heard about this concept at a meeting in Norman, Oklahoma, five years ago this month. I, and others, raised these concerns then and since but those concerns have fallen on deaf ears. To give a simple example, I've mentioned that green is not a color that should be used in tornado warnings. As recently as yesterday (see above illustration), it still was. 

What makes this even worse is that the existing tornado warnings continue to decline in accuracy -- a topic we have discussed several times on this blog; if you want a recent example of a missed warning of a major tornado, go here

Before we make any more changes to the warning system, we need to arrest the problems that have caused existing tornado warnings to be less accurate.

The tornado warning system has been a magnificent scientific accomplishment worthy of a Nobel Prize. The idea to create probabilistic tornado warnings needs to go away and the excellent brainpower of those involved should be used to fix and improve the existing warning system. 

Addition: I have been asked to provide evidence that tornado warnings across the United States are now less accurate than ten years ago. I've written about it so many times that I didn't think I needed to provide a link and I apologize. Go here and you can read my thoughts and those of Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang on this important topic. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Warnings" -- A Review I Missed

I came across this a few hours ago. 
The full story is here.

Warnings makes a great Christmas gift for anyone interested in weather or science. Click on the red link to see it at Amazon.

I Have An Idea That Will Solve Their Problem

Since the Oscars can't seem to find a host, I have an idea to staunch the loss of viewers:

Have E! TV broadcast the celebrities:
  • Getting out of their limos
  • Walking the red carpet (while the limos are going around the block)
  • Getting back into their limos.
Whole thing could be done in 45 minutes, tops. Then, publish an online list of the winners while the celebrities are driven to their respective parties. 

No more nearly three-hour broadcasts. No more celebrities having to pretend to be interested while the "best technical awards" video plays. No more closeups of four "it's an honor to be nominated" losers while the winner isn't even in attendance. 

Everybody wins. 

What Is It Like to File Insurance Claims After a Catastrophe?

A terrific article is here about the experience of filing claims after California's Camp Fire. I would have been even more critical of the insurance company than the author.

At AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, because we were dealing with mission critical issues, we had (and I believe still have) human beings answering the phones 24/7 without automation. The customers loved it. Insurance claims people need to lose the automation when dealing with people who have lost everything.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Facebook is a Terrible Company

The latest proof of that contention is here via British investigators.

I requested deletion of my Facebook page in April but I seriously doubt Facebook deleted it or any other users'.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday Fun: For Catholics

Catholics believe, of course, that Jesus led a sinless life.

Catholics also believe that his earthly mother, Mary, also lead a sinless life.

Yesterday at the Mass for the Immaculate Conception, Fr. Josh Evans commented on the above by saying, "Can you imagine poor Joseph? Everything was always his fault!"

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Ebola Worsens in Africa

The New York Post has a heartbreaking story about the large, and growing, Ebola outbreak in the Congo which threatens to break out of that nation.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Winter Storm Bust

This past Sunday, the computer models were unanimously forecasting heavy snow would fall over southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma beginning this afternoon and continuing into Saturday night. The Governor of Oklahoma (prematurely, in my opinion) declared an official "state of emergency." Food flew off store shelves.

Now it is Friday afternoon and the storm...

Ain't gonna happen.

This is a historic bust and I want to spend a moment discussing what happened and why.
It is has been a very long time since the computer models, in unison, were so very wrong. I hope meteorologists at the National Severe Storms Laboratory, the University of Oklahoma or some other research institution in the area affected by the bust will take hard look at what went wrong and use it to create more robust models. Meteorologists have a bad habit of presenting scientific papers about successes but often do not focus on the busts. This one demands attention.

Next is the role of television consultants and news directors. We have a station here in Wichita that forecasts weather conditions and -- down to the single degree -- temperatures out to ten days. We have no reliable skill with ten day forecasts. But, because meteorologists put them on the air, they are expected to be dependable and of good quality. If it were up to me, the forecasts for the public would go out no more than five days. In the central United States, I wouldn't try to forecast winter storms for the public beyond 3.5 days (commercial meteorologists would continue to make five-day winter storm forecasts for highway departments, utilities and others that need more notice).

Finally, there is the role of the public. Meteorologists don't recommend running to the grocery store for bread, milk and eggs five days before the onset of a storm (the "french toast warning" as Dave Barry puts it). Some get far too emotional about these forecasts.

From an OKC TV meteorologists' Facebook.
H/T James Spann
This is crazy talk. Just ten days ago, meteorologists correctly forecast the blizzard that occurred the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This forecast saved innumerable lives and allowed people -- if they chose -- to change their plans and prevent a major inconvenience.

This past Sunday, meteorologists did an incredible job with an out-of-season tornado outbreak in Illinois.

So, yes, this was a huge bust in Kansas and Oklahoma. But, the level of venom in the above tweets is too much. Meteorologists don't, and won't, get every storm warning correct.

My advice: Unless you need forecasts for commercial purposes, don't worry about Great Plains winter storms more than about three days into the future (for example if heavy snow is forecast for Friday, don't worry about it until about Tuesday evening). 

Addition: The Capital Weather Gang has written a similar,  and very insightful, piece on the same topic. It is here and I recommend it. 

There is one other thing I should have added to my piece above. And, that is the some storms are much more "forecastable" than others. This fact has nothing to do with climate change or anything else. Meteorologists were lamenting this fact in the 1970's and, probably, long before. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Behind the Scenes of President Bush's Funeral Train

The video above is the President's funeral train as it departed Spring, Texas.

Below is an inside look the train and its remarkable history.
It is fitting that President Bush, given his love of trains, was transported to his final resting place in this way.

Back to regular blogging tomorrow.

ADDITION:  Via Twitter.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

President George H. W. Bush's Funeral Train

After a moving ceremony in Washington today, the President's body has been flown back to Houston. Tomorrow, a funeral train will carry the President to the Bush Library on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station.

The casket will be borne by funeral train. The Union Pacific locomotive #4141 will pull the train. It was painted to honor the 41st President. Photos are below. The Union Pacific (formerly Southern Pacific) tracks run near the Library.

At the rear of the train will be Union Pacific's locomotive 1943 which is painted (actually, railroads call  paint schemes "livery") to honor the United States' Armed Forces. It will be pushing the train from behind.

Below is a photo of what the funeral train may look like only with #1943 in the lead.
Addition: #1943 was standing by in case there was a problem with #4141.

It is a fitting way to honor the late President. May God rest his soul.

Addition: The information I received pertaining to UPRR #1943 was incorrect. We don't delete incorrect information on this blog but we do correct it, thus the strike-outs.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Announcing: Diseasecast.com

While readers of this blog have had a preview, we are officially announcing Diseasecast.com.

DiseaseCast is a consumer focused disease forecasting site and mobile application.  The site is powered by Big Data Media, a subsidiary of Luminar Media Group.  Data presented at DiseaseCast is provided by flu outbreak forecaster Ascel Bio.
DiseaseCast presents America’s only zip code specific forecast for chronic and infectious disease risks.   Multiple models for risks are displayed for human an avian influenza risk, foodborne and waterborne diseases, mosquito diseases, as well as heart attack risks.  The site has unique visualizations that look exactly like weather maps.  The risk maps are derived from reliable environmental and public health data, and Ascel Bio uses operationally proven and peer reviewed assessment approaches.  Models and approaches were first used by Ascel Bio in clinical settings since 2011.
At the site, there are long form magazine articles on flu risk, zika virus, mosquito disease, tick-borne diseases, food poisoning, water contamination.  DiseaseCast also publishes global travel and tourism guides, updates on US outbreaks.  There is also a store at DiseaseCast for the purchase of products to prevent or treat forecasted outbreaks.

You can find more information here.

Our goal is to help you and your family live healthier, more convenient lives. 

The Future of This Blog

I retired from a 47-year career in meteorology and weather science in March. I have continued this blog more or less unchanged since my retirement and I have enjoyed writing it since it was established in November, 2009.

It is a time for a change, however.

While I will occasionally blog about weather when a major storm (blizzard, destructive ice storm, tornado outbreak, etc.) threatens the central United States, the focus of this blog will no longer be weather and climate as they are no longer the focus of my professional life.

Before switching to other topics, I want to provide some words about the recent headlines pertaining to global warming. The recent National Climate Assessment (NCA), issued the day after Thanksgiving, was another step backward for the integrity of atmospheric science. The gloom and doom scenarios are a perversion of good science. As a person who has devoted my career to atmospheric science, it is extremely discouraging.

Since I am retired from that career, I am going to dramatically cut down on writing about global warming. It is just too depressing and discouraging.

So, let me leave you with these words:
  • While global warming is not a "scam," it is not the immediate dire problem the NCA portrays, 
  • The best way to mitigate future climate and weather problems is not to "take mass transit more often." The way is to de-carbonize energy.
  • Solar, and especially, wind energy are not the answers. They are too unreliable and wind is too "energy sparse" (fossil fuels are "energy dense"). We need inexpensive, reliable, carbon-free energy. The best way forward is likely thorium nuclear. The U.S. should immediately institute a crash program to bring this safe energy source to market. 
  • The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. In places (Africa) where dung is burned, a coal plant will provide reliable, inexpensive energy which will not only improve the health of those burning dung inside their homes but will add less CO2 to the atmosphere.
  • The "summaries" (which is what the media quotes) of the NCA and the next day's Lancet article are usually written by politicians, not scientists. The real science in these documents is less confident and less dire than what the media quotes. See below. As a result the MSM's coverage of global warming is one-sided and generally inaccurate. 
As an example of how bad these documents and press coverage can be, let's take the new Lancet article and compare what it says with its own actual science.
If you read the primary text, we learn that drought is bad and getting worse. 
But, are things really that bad?

If you go to the trouble to download the "supplementary information" (which is a big pile of data and separate from the main article) you find charts pertaining to drought. Here they are:
By both of Lancet's measures (and, they only present two) severe drought is becoming less frequent.

The report then goes on to explain its issues with extreme rainfall. See below.
But, again, their own data shows otherwise.

In the United States, damage from floods is down.
By both of The Lancet's own measures, worldwide extreme rainfall is becoming less common! In the United States, flooding damage is on a long-term downward trend. 

So, as temperatures have risen, drought has become less common and extremely heavy rainfall has become less common. 

Someone might say, "But, what if that changes if earth's temperatures warm further?" As an atmospheric scientist, I can't think of an atmospheric process that would change the downward trend to an upward trend. The Lancet's report doesn't provide an explanation.

The point is that the summaries -- quoted by the media -- are often completely different than the actual "science" parts of these reports. 

So, when it comes to global warming, don't believe the gloom and doom. The actual science does not support it. If you would like a reasoned way forward based on science, go here

Monday, December 3, 2018

Introducing: MSE Creative Consulting

During the last year, and especially since my retirement, I have found myself in demand from people who would like my assistance in setting up businesses or helping to make existing businesses more profitable and efficient. I have experienced a great deal of satisfaction from these projects. 

So, while Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC still exists as the parent company (for other purposes), I have formed MSE Creative Consulting so as to focus on four areas:
  • Business and scientific consulting services
  • Keynote speaking
  • Writing on deadline/assignment (example here)
  • Future books
The new website is here.

What can clients of MSE Creative Consulting expect? 
Our goal is to assist entrepreneurs establish or tweak their existing businesses to make them more profitable as well as more professionally rewarding.

We are fiercely dedicated to the proposition that innovative, well-run businesses are essential to America. A profit, ethically made, is nothing to be defensive about; rather, it is a societal good. 

In addition to the general business consulting I have been doing, I also wish to offer my services in the fields of natural hazard warning communications and warning system design. 

Regardless of the type of assignment, you will find us dedicated to fulfilling your business goals. 

Please look over the new website and then let’s talk.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Major Tornado Outbreak in Illinois

Here is a map of rotation tracks. The reds/whites/blues are where the most violent tornadoes are likely to have occurred.

Tornado Watch: Illinois and Far Eastern Missouri

Until 7pm. Already one tornado has been reported. Please have two sources of warning information and be prepared to take shelter if a tornado warning is issued.

The Devastation From Last Night's Tornadoes

This is why meteorologists were so concerned...

These images were from Twitter.

While there was damage over a wide area, as far as we know there were no fatalities.

If You Added All of the Hurricanes to Ever Strike the United States...

...how much damage would they have caused? Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., has the answer. From Twitter, below.
The U.S. hurricane season ended yesterday.